Oklahoma’s season opener should be a relatively stress-free affair as long as they respect their opponent and come out flying like they did in game one last season. They are the more talented and deeper team on a day where depth will matter because of the sweltering heat the teams will be playing in.
For Arkansas State, this season is about rebuilding back to where they were from 2010-2019. During that stretch, the Red Wolves had nine winning seasons, went to nine straight bowl games, and won five Sun Belt titles.
Last season, they went 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the Sun Belt. While Arkansas State struggled last year, this year brings new opportunities and fresh faces. The transfer portal created a little turnover, but the Red Wolves also received some talented arrivals.
Corey Rucker, WR
One player to know for the Red Wolves is Corey Rucker. He’s their best offensive weapon and looks like a guy that could sneak into day three of the NFL Draft next April.
He’s been productive every year of college except for last year.
He committed and started his career at Arkansas State, and he was a big-time target in 2020 and 2021 before leaving for South Carolina in 2022. He returned to Arkansas State this spring after an injury derailed his season with the Gamecocks a year ago.
In 2021, Rucker was named FWAA Freshman All-American and Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference after posting a team-high 826 receiving yards, which was fifth in the Sun Belt on 59 catches. He scored nine touchdowns, leading the team and ranking second in the league that year.
He’s not overly big, but at six feet, he’s not scared to attack the ball in the air. He lined up outside and in the slot for Red Wolves. He has the speed to stress corners.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see new starting cornerback Gentry Williams get the assignment, as he has more footspeed than Woodi Washington.
UP NEXT: The man throwing to Rucker
J.T. Shrout, QB
The man charged with throwing the ball to Rucker is quarterback J.T. Shrout. Shrout transferred from Colorado in the wake of Deion Sanders’ massive roster turnover.
Shrout’s a redshirt senior who’s spent most of his career with the Tennessee Volunteers. He was a Vol from 2018-2021, playing in just eight games.
He transferred to Colorado last offseason, where he played in nine games, throwing for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns.
Shrout has played against Power Five competition, so seeing a team with Oklahoma’s talent won’t be new. His offensive line returns three starters, so that should help. However, OU’s depth along the defensive line should be fully displayed, making his day miserable.
UP NEXT: A talented defensive back
Trevian Thomas, Safety
Safety Trevian Thomas is a name to watch on the defensive side of the ball. He has appeared in over 30 games at the collegiate level. He appeared in all 12 games last year, with starts in every contest but one.
He was fourth on the team with 71 total tackles and led the team with 41 solo stops. He’s a magnet to the ball. While he’s not the biggest guy, he’s unafraid to stick his nose in for a tackle in the run game.
Where the Sooners’ offense may be able to exploit him may be in coverage as the Sooners’ receiver corps has multiple options that can put pressure on him vertically.
One thing we know about Jeff Lebby is that he loves his “shot” plays that force teams to respect the deep ball. Oklahoma could test Thomas and his safety partner, Eddie Smith, early to see how they respond before the Sooners force one of the safeties to commit to the run game.
Arkansas State can’t be underestimated. They’ve got some talented playmakers who are veterans, which means the atmosphere of playing in front of a major Power Five crowd will likely not scare them. The Sooners’ significant depth advantage should help them wear the Red Wolves down as long as Oklahoma comes out with some fire.